Whether it’s a new work policy, you’re going through a lockdown or you’re studying online, working from home can be tough. Here are 8 tips to increase productivity whilst working from home.
For the last few years, the concept of remote working and decentralised teams have been increasing. New working styles like Agile have led forward-thinking businesses to adopt new ways of working (hot-desking, anyone?).
But it really took the pandemic and government stay-at-home orders to take it into the mainstream.
After more than a year, many professionals are now embracing this “new normal”, and learn to see that working from home can actually lead to increased productivity and work-life balance.
According to a study by the Gallup institute, job satisfaction and retention rates have increased with WFH policies; 32% of remote workers report to be more engaged compared to 28% of office workers. 55% of workers would even look elsewhere if remote working is taken away.
For many of us, working from home is still a new set-up and takes some getting used to, for others we’re used to working from anywhere, be it a cafe or co-working space. To help you get the most out of our new normal, here are 8 research-backed tips to help you be your best and make working from home work for you.
#1 Create a designated work space
It may seem comfortable to work on the couch or set up on the dining table, but having a designated workspace is critical for both your mental and physical wellbeing.
Even if you didn’t have a separate office or room at home, having a corner desk or nook that is set up as your place of business helps you better mentally separate your work vs personal tasks. This means fewer distractions, and helps you better “leave work” and switch off at the end of the day.
Plus, if you’re anything like me, you can spread out your papers and coloured pens as much as you’d like during the work day and not have to waste time clearing and resetting every day.
#2 Set your intention for each day, and protect your time so you actually achieve it
In the excellent book Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Each Day, digital gurus Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky shows that making an infinite to-do list make you feel productive, but in fact create an overwhelming sense of “spinning wheels”.
By nature, to-do lists are never ending. Though it’s important to set your intention each day, having a list of 20 items can be too task-oriented and lead to a feeling of never being “done” with anything.
Instead, set a “highlight” each day – a task or groups of tasks such as “finish presentation” that can be achieved within the day. Then, protect your time and focus on getting your highlight done.
Set the mood, put on your noise-cancelling headphones with your favourite working playlist and don’t allow other distractions until your highlight is done.
You’ll feel much more productive each day, and finish it with a stronger sense of achievement if you focus on your highlight.
#3 Maintain regular work hours
While it is one of the advantages of working from home to be able to duck out and collect the mail or attack the pile of laundry, it’s also much easier to let work hours bleed into personal time.
A UK study found that in 2021, workers have increased their working week by almost 25%, regularly logging off later than usual to wrap up an extended working day compared to pre-pandemic habits.
Not only is this bad for morale (I’d love to see if paychecks have increased by 25% too), work/life balance is critical to help you recharge and perform better the next day. It’s also a slippery slope for the degradation of family and personal relationships too.
On a positive note, working from home is also an opportunity to have a conversation with your workplace about your optimal work hours, too. Some businesses allow flexible start times, so if you’re a night owl, consider a later start and finish time, or if you have family commitments in the evening, consider shifting your workday forward to suit.
Whatever your arrangement, be sure to communicate, commit and protect your work routine.
#4 Set your ground rules for communication
Email, text, slack, messenger, teams, zoom, whatsapp… there are so many ways of communicating these days, it can be a full-time job just keeping up with correspondence from your workmates, teams and clients. So simplify.
Do you prefer short messages over slack? Or do you prefer a daily stand-up in the morning over zoom? Whatever it is, make sure you communicate this to your team and reinforce your way of working.
For me, I turn off notifications on Slack and only check it morning, lunch and afternoon. If it’s urgent, call me. Otherwise, send me a standalone email with all the attachments and links I need in one email. Anything else I look at outside of office hours. It’s amazing how much you can get done without people constantly stealing your attention.
#5 Set breaks and take them
Similar to making sure you log off at the end of the day, taking breaks throughout is just as important to keep yourself fresh.
Don’t work through lunch or stay in the same seat all day. A change of scenery is critical to creativity.
Try the Pomodoro technique. It goes like this: structure your work in into “chunks” of tasks of around half an hour each. Then, take a take a 5 minutes break. After 3 rotations, increase your break time to 15 minutes and repeat. Studies have shown that 25 minutes is just enough time to stay focused on a concept or component, and then take 5 minutes to catch up on emails and Slack before another burst of uninterrupted productivity. Trust me, I’m a social media manager – whatever the crisis, it can wait 25 minutes.
#6 Reward yourself when you achieve a goal
If you follow any motivational instagram accounts, you would have heard Tony Robbins telling us that “success if the result of momentum”. Well, it turns out positive reinforcement is one of the best ways to build momentum.
Author Gretchen Rubin puts it best in her best-selling book, Better Than Before: “When we give ourselves treats, we feel energised, cared for, and contented, which boosts our self-command — and self-command helps us maintain our healthy habits.”
So each time you finish a chuck of tasks in your Pomodoro sprint, or if you’ve finished your daily highlight – give yourself a little treat. For me it’s a piece of fruit or chocolate when it’s a smaller task, or an episode of Friends or a 15 minute reading break when I’ve finished a presentation. Give yourself something to look forward to throughout the day to keep you motivated and build your daily momentum.
If nothing else, having little treats throughout the day helps your day go faster as well.
#7 Go outside and socialise
Don’t stay within the same four walls all day. As well as scheduling your breaks, head outside for some fresh air. Walk the dog, grab a coffee…
Researchers at the University of California has found that people are more creative when they change their environments. Not only is staying inside, in the same location, detrimental to creative thinking, it’s also detrimental to the “dreaming” needed for ideas to percolate and gestate to allow for that ‘aha’ moment.
Getting outside – something as simple as a walk around the block – is restorative. Even for a few minutes. So grab a coffee, support a small business, and have a chat.
This goes for socialising with your teammates as well. Research from the World Economic Forum has found that making friends in the workplace leads to happier and more productive employees. Turn on the camera at the next team meeting. Ask your workmates about something other than the status of the latest report. Building a sense of closeness with your team fosters trust and helps you more engaged with your work as well.
#8 Build transitions in and out of work
Mark the start and the end of your work day with an activity or task. This will teach your subconscious to switch in and out of work mode and will help you focus at the start, and unwind at night.
For me, I always start my work day with a cup of coffee and a blank page to set the highlight of the day. At the end of the day, I quit out of my emails and Slack, and get on the bike for a 45 minute spin class.
Having a ritual that bookends your work day helps you better focus during work hours and properly unwind at the end of the day. Research calls this the “third space” – this essential bridge helps you prepare the mental shift from being a professional back to being a parent, spouse or simply, “you”.
For me it’s the spin class, but it could be a yin yoga session, planning the next day’s highlight, or listening to a podcast while taking a walk around the block. A peaceful, grounding exercise at the end of the day will help you settling into your evening.